Write a Murder Mystery. The trick is to really think this through properly – find interesting characters – interesting motives – interesting psychological reasons for the final reveal – a good sleuth (if you want one) – and preferably a few surprises that the audience wouldn’t have expected.
Eugh. Effort. Too much effort required.
The thing is murder mysteries are hard to write and, unless your name is Agatha Christie, chances are it’s not going to be very good. So I was willing to write this one off and just churn out a load of crap, I mean there’s bound to be some duff ones during this month. But I had all day to write it, so what did I do? Well I went to the cinema instead, woops. However whilst driving home I had the inspiration to do this as a piece of verbatim theatre. So I decided to research some real life murder cases, which makes for a cheery Sunday afternoon. In the end I settled for the case of “The Boy in the Box.”
This case really interests me and I wish I could write more on it, but with only a day to do extensive research, and with it being a Sunday no access to a library, I could only write so much. I chose to focus primarily on the second police officer who was at the scene of the scene of the crime, Sam Weinstien. If you want to read up more on this case, I suggest that you do. For now, here is my verbatim piece on The Boy in the Box.
The Boy in the Box
The stage is empty except for one cardboard carton, dimensions 15” x 19” x 35”. A spotlight comes up slowly and lingers on the box, in silence for a good few seconds.
A Priest enters and stands over the box.
Priest: Burial Services for “America’s Unknown Child.” November 11, 1998, 11:00 am. Ivy Hill Cemetery, 1201 Easton Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Vidocq society. Nov. 11, 1998 – more than 41 years after his body was abandoned at a roadside dump, this little unknown boy is coming come As the Philadelphia Police investigation continues , this small boy whose sad plight has touched tens of thousands across the country is coming home. The generosity of many will now allow this child to spend eternity in honor, resting not in a pauper’s grave in a potter’s field, but a beautiful site in the rolling hills of Ivy Hill Cemetery. From this day forth he becomes a symbol for every child in American who has paid the ultimate price for abuse. Whether or not his identity is finally determined, forever he will be “America’s Unknown Child.”
Light down on the Priest.
Spotlight up on a Philadelphia Police Officer, stage right of the box. He is holding up an “Information Wanted” poster to the audience.
Police Officer #1: Police Department, Philadelphia, P.A. Information wanted. Photographs depict unidentified boy, whose nude body was found in a cardboard carton, in a thicket, near Susquehanna and Verree Roads, Fox Chase, Philadelphia, 3:45pm, Monday, February 25, 1957. Death caused by head injuries. Multiple bruises over entire body. Death estimated to have occurred from three days to two weeks prior to discovery. No clothing found. Body covered by blanket. Man’s cloth cap found adjacent to body.
Spotlight on another police officer, who is stood stage left of the box, also holding the poster out to the audience.
Policer Officer #2: Description of Boy: 4 to 5 years, height 40½”, weight 30 Ibs, blue eyes, fair complexion; medium to light brown hair, crudely cut; full st of baby teeth, no deformities; “L-shaped scar under chin; no vaccination scar; tonsils not removed; no bone fractures’ finger and toe nails neatly clipped; clothing size probably 4; shoe size 8-D.
Spotlight on third police officer. He is stood behind the box, holding the aforementioned blanket out to the audience.
Police Officer #3: Blanket made of cheap cotton flannel, pattered with diamonds and blocks in green, rust and white, colors faded. Overall size 64” x 76” with section 31” x 26” missing. Clean, apparently washed recently. Mended with poor-grade cotton thread on home-type sewing machine.
The first Police Officer has put down the poster, and is now holding the cloth cap.
Police Officer #1: Man’s cap, size 7½”, leather strap in back, royal blue corduroy material. In excellent condition, with large roll of paper tissue in sweatband. Manufacturer’s stamp in lining of crow, Robbins Bald Eagle Cap, 2603 South 7th St. Philadelphia, Pa.
The Third Police Officer moves closer and stands over the box.
Police Officer #3: Carton size 15” x 19” x 35”. Originally contained white bassinet, price $7.50 sold at .C Penney store, 6th and Chestnut Sts., Upper Darby, Pa., between December 3 1936 and February 16, 1957.
The Second Police Officer moves in front of the box and addresses the audience.
Police Officer #2: It is requested that citizens and law enforcement, welfare, and child caring agencies supply information concerning boys of this age and description, known to be in the custody of persons who would abuse them; also the disappearance or absence of any child answering the description. Newspaper, radio, and television publicity requested.
The following piece of dialogue is spoken first by Police Officer #1, with Police Officer’s #2 and #3 overlapping.
Police Officer #1: Notify Detective Headquarters, City Hall, Philadelphia, Homicide Unit, at any time, day or night, in person or telephone, Municipal 6-9700, or submit information through your local police department.
Police Officer #2: (Overlapping) Notify Detective Headquarters, City Hall, Philadelphia, Homicide Unit, at any time, day or night, in person or telephone, Municipal 6-9700, or submit information through your local police department.
Police Officer #3: (Overlapping) Notify Detective Headquarters, City Hall, Philadelphia, Homicide Unit, at any time, day or night, in person or telephone, Municipal 6-9700, or submit information through your local police department. March 8 1957.
Each spotlight goes out on the Police Officer after they have stopped talking, until the only thing left is the spotlight still on the box.
Pictures of the discovery site are then projected on a screen up stage.
Police Officer #2 re-enters but he is a lot older this time. He looks down at the box and begins the weep. He kneels down and places one hand carefully on the box. His name is Sam Weinstein.
Sam: You had to look at that child’s face the way I did when I first saw him and see that fright and that pain in his face. This poor child was discarded as a piece of trash, stripped of his identity…Thrown away like that… sharing space with beer bottles, cigarette butts and a broken toilet. It’s something I never want to see again. I’m a combat veteran of World War II. I’ve seen a lot of mayhem, but this touched me more than anything I have ever seen before.
Lights down, he exits.
A large group of people enter, walking across the stage and around the box with their heads buried in newspapers. Newspapers are either the Philadelphia Bulletin, or the Philadelphia Inquirer, but each one is from a different date.
Journalist: Body of Boy found in Box in Fox Chase. Philadelphia Evening Bulletin – 02/26/1957. The body of a boy between four and six, nude and bruised, was found in a cardboard box ust off Susquehanna road, west of Verree road, Fox Chase, shortly before 11 A.M. today. A preliminary examination indicated that he had been dead more than two days, The body was wrapped in a blanket. The boy had dark brown hair, blue eyes, and was thin-featured and of slender build. He weighed about 30 pounds and was three feet five inches tall.
Police Officer #1 enters.
Police Officer #1: There were bruises or discolorations on his face, stomach and legs.
Enter Dr. Joseph W. Spelman
Dr. Spelman: Evidences of Injury
Journalist: Dr. Joseph W. Spelman, chief medical examiner, who pronounced the boy dead at the scene, said-
Dr. Spelman: -There were “evidences of injury” but that the extent of the injury had not yet been determined.
Police Officer #1: Detectives of the homicide squad, the Northeast Criminal Investigation Division and the police started an intensive search to find out the boy’s identity.
Dr. Spelman: They also began an examination of the area for clues as to how the child met his death. An autopsy was performed at the morgue in an effort to determine whether the boy had been sexually assaulted. Detectives said there were not so many bruises as to suggest that he was beaten to death. The possibility of smothering also was being explored.
Journalist: A few feet away from the box, in the road, detectives found an Ivy League style cap of blue gabardine, with an adjustable belt at the back. It was size 7 1/8 – a man’s size. But there was paper stuffed into it, as though it had been worn by someone for whom it was too big. The cap was trampled and dirty, but apparently had not been there very long, investigators said. The cap and the cardboard box were taken to the crime laboratory in City Hall. On the box the word “furniture” was stamped in red. It had at one time been sealed across the top with gummed blue paper.
Enter Captain David Roberts. He walks over to inspect the box.
Roberts: Handle with care.
Journalist: It also bore the markings “Fragile” and “Handle With Care.” On the top in block red letters it said “Do Not Open With Knife.” There was a marking “Pkg. 25 F.” There also was an arrow pointing toward the top. The box, detectives said
Roberts: The box measured 36 inches high, 19 inches wide and 14 inches deep. nThrough serial numbers, according to investigators, it was traced to a department store at 69th st.
Journalist: Captain David Roberts, of the homicide squad, scoured the files back to January 1 for any report of a missing boy in the area. There was none, he said. He sent teletype messages to communities surrounding Fox Chase and further to the north of the city asking for reports of any missing youngsters.
Enter Fred Benonis
Policer Office #1: The body was found as the result of a telephone call to police from Fred Benonis, 26, of 2013 E. Lansing st., a junior at LaSalle College. The call came in at the police switchboard in City Hall at 10:10 this morning. Benonis was switched immediately to Detective Sergeant Charles Gargani, of homicide. According to Gargani, Benonis told him he thought he-
Fred: – saw a head protruding from a corrugated cardboard box just alongside Susquehanna road, about 500 yards west of Verree road. This would be between Verree and Pine road.
Police Officer #1: Gargani said Benonis gave this account: Benonis was driving-
Fred: -driving along Susquehanna road yesterday, on his way home from classes, and he saw a rabbit running across the road. He stopped the car and chased after the rabbit, which hopped into some underbrush.
Journalist: He came to some muskrat traps, which were not set, this not being the season. He thought he would set the traps and see what happened.
Fred: Mistaken for a doll.
Journalist: Then he saw the cardboard box. It was lying on its side and one end was open. He didn’t inspect it closely but he thought-
Fred: -There may have been a large doll in it.
Police Officer #2 enters.
Police Officer #1: Benonis thought no more about it, according to Gargani, until this morning when he heard about the four-year-old girl missing from Bellmawr, N.J. Then he called police and told them about the box, thinking it may have been more important than he at first supposed.
Journalist: When Gargani got the call, Detectives Edward Repsch and Samuel Powell, of homicide, picked up Dr. Spelman at his office at 13th and Wood sts. and sped to the scene. Radio messages went out to red cars operating out of the 7th police district at Bustleton av. and Bowler st. Sergeant Edward Honigman in one car and Patrolmen Gerald Blumberg and Samuel Cohen, who were in another, met at the scene. With the description of the spot furnished by Benonis and relayed to them, they searched for about 15 minutes and then found the box. Blumberg said it was lying at the junction of two foot paths.
Police Officer #2: There was some trash scattered around it.
Spotlight on box – Sam Weinstein enters carrying flowers.
Lights up on a small writing desk on the side of the stage, where Jim Hoffman sits writing
Sam: I’ve seen a lot of mayhem, but this touched me more than anything I ever saw before.
Jim: Sam Weinstein devoted a large part of his energy, time, and money to bringing closure to such an innocent victim in such a heinous crime. Weinstein, a combat veteran of World War II, couldn’t believe what he saw as he was the second police to arrive at the scene of the crime He was thirty one years old. He found a little boy, naked, except for a segmented blanket, a victim stripped of his identity.
Sam: One can only imagine what Weinstein and the others were thinking as they, in the course of their duties, came across the horror and the pain etched in the boy’s face Stuffed into a box and left with unwanted items along Susquehanna Road. I saw so much hurt and so much fear in his face. As hard-hearted as I could be, it really got to me.
Jim: Rain-soaked Weinstein decided then and there that h would do whatever he could to bring resolution to the case. When Weinstein became a detective with the police force, he continued to search for clues. In fact, he spent over forty years fulfilling his promise.
Sat the writing desk is now Mark Pulham.
Mark: In woods not far from Philadelphia, the body of a young boy was found in a box in 1957. An autopsy showed the 4-to-6-year-old child had died from a blow to his head and had sustained numerous bruises. A widespread, prolonged investigation failed to even determine the boy’s name.
Spotlight on Sam Weinstein, sat looking out at the box.
The service began exactly at 11 a.m. A lone piper played “Going Home” from Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” on the bagpipes.
Going Home can be heard being played on bagpipes.
The pallbearers were not family members or relatives, nor were they friends of the deceased, not in the common sense. Some were Philadelphia police officers; others were members of the Vidocq Society. The white casket was lowered into the ground on the corner triangular plot. One of the pallbearers, Sam Weinstein, a retired Philadelphia detective, sat on one of the chairs and wiped a tear from his eye.
Weinstein was there at the beginning, some forty-one years earlier.
It was Monday, February 25. Spring had yet to arrive, and it had been cold for that last week, the temperature dropping down to the 20s. Around 3:15 that afternoon, Frederick J. Benonis, a 26-year-old student from La Salle College, parked his car on the Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase. He got out of the car and went into the thickly wooded lot. Two weeks earlier, he had stopped at the same spot and chased a rabbit into the woods where he spotted a couple of traps set for small game. Benonis didn’t like the cruelty of these traps and sprung them. Now he wanted to check the traps again. They had not been reset. As usual, garbage was strewn everywhere, including a large cardboard box partially covered with brush. It had not been there on his previous visit. Curious, he took a look inside and saw a large doll. It was very realistic. Too realistic.
Benonis rushed back to the car and drove away. He didn’t call the police; he knew what they would think. They had already talked with him about his habit of spying on the young ladies at the Good Shepherd Home for Wayward Girls across the street from the woods.
The next morning, as he drove to school, he heard a news broadcast on the car radio. A 4-year old girl named Mary Jane Barker had vanished from her home in Bellmawr, New Jersey, less than 25 miles away. Could that be Mary Jane’s body in the box? Is that what he had found? He had to talk to someone. He told of what he had found to two counsellors and a priest. They told him to call the police.
Sergeant Charles Gargani was manning the station desk when the call came in at 10:10 that Tuesday morning. He ordered a radio message to officers to investigate a cardboard box off Susquehanna Road, saying it could be a body, or a doll. Shortly after, Patrolman Elmer Palmer arrived on the scene. It was drizzling and cold.
Sure that what he would find would turn out to be a doll, Palmer entered the wooded area. Soon, he found the box, which was about three feet long and stamped “Fragile-Handle with Care.” Palmer stopped. He could see the head and shoulder that were sticking out of the box, the rest wrapped in a blanket. This was no doll. He went back to his patrol car and reported what he’d found.
Police Officer #2 enters and slowly approaches the box, playing out the words Mark is typing.
A second car pulled up on that rainy, foggy morning. Sam Weinstein had arrived on the scene. Weinstein looked in the box. He was no stranger to death, having served in the Pacific as a Marine in World War II. But this was different, this was a child. Weinstein would always remember the sick feeling he got when he saw the body, thrown away with the rest of the garbage. He would make a promise that he would never give up on this child.
Sam wipes a tear away from his eye.
Lights down on Mark
Lights down on the Box and the Police Officer
Lights down on Sam.